Recognizing the Experience Generation

By Dave Miller

Bruce Fox, Inc. 

Recognizing the Experience Generation-1

Today’s workplace is statistically more diverse than it has ever been.  Longstanding gaps across gender, age and race lines continue to close quickly.  As individuals, we are still in possession of our personal traits, desires and motivations.  We remain the Boomers and Centennials—and all the alphabet soup in between—that we have been labeled to be.  But, as a society, we are all members in good standing of a burgeoning movement.  We are the “Experience Generation.”

A core trait of the Experience Generation is that we increasingly value real life experiences over material possessions.  Unique encounters and storytelling are the new status symbols.  And—with smartphones in the clutches of nearly every citizen over the age of 8—we are all instant cultural autobiographers and documentarists, telling stories through pictures and videos in real time.

This seismic shift in our culture is societal, but it also crosses all functions of commerce and industry, including supply chain and purchase decision channels.  It has a number of ramifications on our selling proposition as promotional products professionals.  And, drilling further, it is having an even more profound effect on so-called employee engagement and recognition programs.  The Experience Generation is leaving its mark, and it has created a new landscape of opportunities to serve recognition programs in a meaningful way.

The Down & Dirty Dozen

Before exploring how the Experience Generation is impacting us all, let’s get some housekeeping out of the way.  Some incontrovertible truths about promotional products, recognition programs, and the human condition in general:

1. No one likes to be a logo mule. In a matter of 47.6 seconds and with the help of Google, I found a couple dozen YouTube videos on the topic of How to Remove Logos from promotional products.  The assessment of our industry by these DIYers is not fit to print here, but suffice it to say it is not flattering.  Vinegar, lacquer thinner and even sugar cubes figure prominently in the effort to undo what our twenty-whatever-billion-dollar industry takes such pride and care of doing in the first place.
2. Tattooing a logo on a thingie for the sole purpose of creating an “ad impression” is disingenuous. The only entity it engages is represented by the logo that is borne upon the thingie.  Yes, I said thingie—the word “swag” is a threadbare idiom, and I want to be sure to be inclusive of all 4,000 suppliers in our industry, and thingie pretty well covers it.

promotional product recent study

3. No one likes to be sold to. We all know what it feels like, and nary a person I know who can fog a mirror likes to be sold to.  So stop doing it.  Sales is transactional; consultation is relational.  Selling is beneficial to you; relating is beneficial to them.  In the case of recognition, “them” is the triumvirate of the buyer, the presenter, and the recipient.

4. Without a viable alternative, most buyers will seek the path of least resistance. It’s human nature.  They only know what Google tells them to know.  But you’re the expert, and you are counted on to foster your client’s mission and deliver an impactful solution on a plane above a one-size-fits-most/your logo here remedy.  Your margin—and what you earn—is a fee for service, and it’s incumbent upon you to deliver value for that fee.  You are the solution Sherpa.  Say that three times real fast.

5. Every relationship anyone in the history of our planet has ever had is built on storytelling. The harsh truth is—as an industry—we are lousy storytellers.  The power of storytelling applies to personal relationships, intimate relationships, relationships with our kids, etc.  It’s the only genuine way, in the 40,000-year chronicle of civilized human existence, we have ever gotten to really know one another.  Storytelling connects us.  And it most certainly applies to the business relationships we have.  Without an agenda or ulterior motive, invite a customer to have lunch at that new place that just opened.  Spend time together and observe how storytelling is an innate human behavior.

6. Storytelling is essential to our ability to relate and empathize. As storytellers, it defines us.  As listeners, we yearn for it.  Hat tip to Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Giogloi here, excerpted from their November 2018 “Convince and Convert” blog:

  • Facts and figures indicate that stories are 22 times more memorable than facts & figures.
  • Our neural activity increases 5X when listening to a story.
  • Storytelling lights up the sensory cortex in the brain, allowing the listener to feel, hear, taste and even smell the story.

7. I have a story about bananas, and you need a story that’s yours. Steal mine and use it as your own if you need a starting point.  Email me at to peel back a bunch of bananas.

8. You can improve your storytelling ability with dedication and practice. You can be a better conversationalist with a commitment to do so.  The alternative to hosting a discussion with your clients is to function as their merchandiser and order-taker.  And, with an internet connection, they don’t really need you for that.

9. Every gift is a reflection of the giver. Recipients of any gift or award know precisely how much (or how little) thought went into it.  There’s just no way to fake it.  A cop-out choice (like a gift card) is perceived for what it is: No cares given.

10. In this day and age of subsisting on the grid on a 24/7/365 basis, there is an opportunity to distinguish yourself by initiating human contact.

11. Very few people have the cojones to ask “Why?” Be the one who does without fear, and discover what matters.  Rocking the boat will often result in a change of course.

12. The concept of FOMO is real. If you don’t happen to be a teenager or have one handy, it stands for the “fear of missing out.” Pledge to make FOMO a palpable part of your sales proposition when it comes to commemorating an important achievement.  Paint the picture of recognition as an experience and how it can have—and rightfully should have—a lifelong impact.  It’s emotional leverage you can exert without being too imposing or sales-y.


Author James Wallman coined the term “Stuffocation” and wrote a book by that title—the premise of which is that material possessions not only do not satisfy us in a lasting way, but that material “obesity” is actually a major stressor and anxiety-inducer in our lives.

What does stuffocation have to do with recognition in the Experience Generation?  How does this relate to elite performers who have made a difference?

Like many of us, award recipients’ closets are already stuffed with stuff.  (Which I suppose is why it’s called stuff.)  More stuff is just that…more stuff.  As it relates to awards, their mantels are fully occupied with the dust-collecting, garden-variety globs of glass that bear scant more meaning than the imprinted logo.  That only serves to dignify the provider, not the recipient.

A commodity item—or worse, cash and cash equivalents—have a known value.  And recipients quickly size up the commercial/retail value of what they’ve been given and assess whether or not it’s commensurate with their achievement.

Award recipients don’t want stuff.  It’s an insincere trade for their efforts, and will leave recipients feeling jilted.  They want experiences.  They want to the occasion to register in their Journal of Life.  They want lasting memories that, in turn, become the stories they tell and share and use to connect with others.  This speaks to the potential extrinsic value of a thoughtful gift or award—what it’s worth to the recipient beyond the hard material & labor costs of the object itself.

To yield any measurable and lasting impact, any award that is presented should possess a symbolic meaning.  It should serve as a permanent point of reference to an experience.  In this case, the experience of achievement.

As if all that’s not enough, it stands to reason that high achievers likely have the means to buy or acquire what they “want” or “need.”  So the thingie doesn’t even provide a basic intrinsic value.  Urge your clients to surprise and delight their achievers by offering experiences they may not seek out on their own.  Send them on a skydiving trip, a makeover, a white water rafting excursion, a shopping spree at their favorite boutique, a sporting clay session, a trip to Comic Con, a weekend of pampering at a four-star spa—whatever they, as individuals, happen to be “into.”  Give them an adventure—an experience.  Doing so will guarantee a lasting and personally-impactful memory.

Different is the Difference

And here’s where you come in.  Give them the “stuff” that remains as a permanent fixture when the experience is over.  The tangible and symbolic thingie.  The ultimate souvenir.

Let recipients relive the experience.

Let others hear the story about their experience.

Let others aspire to achieve and create their own experiences.

These are the people, after all, that are the difference-makers for your clients.  They’re the 90th percentile.  An essential part of your job as a consultative practitioner is to make a difference as their storytelling advocate.  And, as a member of the Experience Generation, to make sure an indelible mark is left in their memories for a lifetime.  This is a practice you can embrace to differentiate yourself.